Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Photo by Cancre
My landlord in Brooklyn was from Poland.  When he was a child, his father was arrested as a political  prisoner and murdered at Auschwitz. When I moved into the house on Ocean Avenue, my landlord was employed as an architect which was interesting for me because I love buildings and the stories that buildings tell about a place. 

He liked me because I had been to Warsaw while I was making the Marie Curie documentary (she was born and raised in Warsaw).  I talked to him about that trip.  To get there, I drove with my son from Berlin in a rental car.  The highway to Warsaw cut through a forest so thick you could only see about fifteen or twenty feet into it.  It made me think about fairy tales and stories of woodsmen.  The highway was only two lanes - one in each direction -  and cars passed in the center between them willy-nilly which was very scary.  Also got pulled over by the police for something, which was also scary.  I didn’t know what I had done wrong because I didn’t speak a word of Polish and they didn’t speak any English.  I just held out a wad of German marks, they took whatever they wanted, gave me something that looked like stamps, and I drove away.  We stopped for lunch at a MacDonald’s in Poznan because I knew what to expect on the menu even if I couldn’t read it..  I noted that every person in the restaurant, except us, had blond hair and blue eyes.  In Warsaw we went to a buffet in the hotel and they served cow’s lung soup at a buffet.  Of course I tried it.  It had a texture like boiled chicken liver and made me think that Communist countries didn’t waste anything and had a low carbon footprint.  Anyway, I’m too far from Brooklyn and so I’ll return.

My landlord loved a bargain and me too.  So when he invited me to bike over to a little Polish neighborhood in South Park Slope to grocery shop, I readily agreed.  It was just a few shops really – a couple of produce stores, a few deli-bakeries that also sold packaged goods and a butcher on one side.  Across the street, was a small Polish supermarket and some Indian stores selling shawls, spices and Indian foods. The ethnic stores in Brooklyn had their signs in their own language, in this case Polish and Hindi, as well as English. 

I will digress, again, to point out, again, that I have never found cheaper produce anywhere than in New York City.  Not in California where they grow a plethora of fruits and vegetables.  Not in Texas where they grow lettuce, greens, and citrus fruits.  Nowhere else.  At Christmastime in New York, I was able to buy a pint of blueberries for 50 cents. 
Okay, so my landlord and I went into this little deli-bakery.  My landlord ordered his sliced meats and bakery goods and then stood chatting in Polish with a blond blue-eyed woman.  I finished ordering ham and some rolls and I wandered around (a few steps at most because it was a tiny place) and found myself looking at a 4-layerl shelving unit – 12” x 12” – with cosmetic products.  And one of the items was a man’s cologne and the name of it …..BRUTAL.

I picked it up and asked one of the clerks if she knew what the word brutal meant.  She did.  I asked if this might be a mistranslation (because I’d seen some odd translations in New York.  For example a Chinese product claimed to be more cardigan.  And I figured they confused sweeter with sweater and came up with more cardigan to mean more sweeter.  And I once saw a package of black sesame seeds in Chinatown labeled as Black Sesame Sperm.  Although I suppose that isn’t really a mistranslation, just not a very appetizing one.

At any rate, the Polish clerk told me, “No.  That’s the correct translation.”

So.  Brutal cologne.  A Polish specialty.  What does it smell like?  Sweat and iron filings?  And who wears it?  Don’t think about that too much.  Think about this – who would be attracted to a man wearing that scent?

I never found out.

My landlord and I finished our shopping at the little supermarket across the street and went home. 

Post by Alana Cash

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